Throwback Thursday: Operation!

Throwback Thursday: Operation!

One of the many memories of childhood is sitting around at a party or on a rainy day playing boardgames. Some of the most popular were games like Monopoly, Candy Land, checkers, chess, Stratego, and Clue. These games not only provided hours of entertainment, they taught valuable skills in negotiation, strategy, planning, and critical thinking. However, there is one game that did all of those things while doing something most boardgames are not known for doing — developing fine motor skills. That game is Operation.

Invented in 1964 by John Spinello when he was a student at the University of Illinois, Operation is now owned and produced by Hasbro. Currently valued at around $40 million USD, Spinello originally sold the concept and design to Milton-Bradley for the princely sum of $500 and the promise of a job after graduation. Operation is a type of electrified wire loop game and, as most of us know, requires the players to try to remove various small plastic game pieces from the “patient” Cavity Sam without the tweezers touching the sides of the opening. This feat is incredibly difficult for most children, making the game a real challenge and forcing kids to further develop their hand-eye coordination and their fine motor control if they want to master it. In the days before video games, Operation was probably one of the best and most fun ways to hone these skills in childhood.

Operation is still in production and is, probably, still the cause of many arguments over jostling, cheating, and “taking too long to get it, here let me try.” However, the creator, John Spinello, is not doing as well. He is currently facing surgery that he cannot afford and some of his friends, Tim Walsh and Peggy Brown, are working to help raise money for his treatment. Ironically, the deal that Spinello struck in 1964 turned out to be a bum one. He cannot claim or collect royalties for his invention as he signed all those rights over for $500. Spinello isn’t bitter — according to the website set up by his friends, he’s had a good life. However, for any of you inventors and creators out there, let his tale be a cautionary one: have your own lawyer check your contracts and don’t accept a single-time lump-sum payment. Your invention could go on to make a lot of money for the company you sell it to and they may not turn to you in gratitude, years later, when you need help.

Wednesday Recipe: Slow Cooking Fun

With the weather growing colder and the days growing shorter, it’s clear that winter is coming. Soon it will be indoor time all the time, making everyone huddle around a source of heat or curl up with a blanket. Winter is the time of year when protein-rich meals are the most necessary to help combat the cold, boost immunity, and provide energy that people lack during the shorter days with less sunlight. That means it’s an ideal time to break out the slow cooker and make meals that have all the protein and nutrients necessary without all of the fuss that usually comes with food prep.

Honey-Garlic Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried basil

Lay chicken thighs into the bottom of a 4-quart slow cooker. Whisk soy sauce, ketchup, honey, garlic, and basil together in a bowl; pour over the chicken. Cook on Low for 6 hours.

Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 (1 ounce) envelope dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed cream of chicken soup
1 (1 ounce) packet dry au jus mix
3/4 cup water

In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, onion soup mix, bread crumbs, and milk using your hands. Shape into 8 patties.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge the patties in flour just to coat, and quickly brown on both sides in the hot skillet. Place browned patties into the slow cooker stacking alternately like a pyramid. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream of chicken soup, au jus mix, and water. Pour over the meat. Cook on the Low setting for 4 or 5 hours, until ground beef is well done.

6 Trick or Treating Safety Tips

6 Trick or Treating Safety Tips

This Friday is Halloween which means it will be time for the kids to head out trick or treating. Costumes and decorations will already have been taken care of but we have some advice for you on how to keep your children and yourself safe during this year’s trick or treating. While going house-to-house in search of goodies is harmless and children are rarely hurt while engaging in this cultural activity, there are a few things that can be done to give them an extra boost in safety — especially if they are old enough to go without parental escort.

1) Carry a flashlight with fresh batteries — In the autumn and winter, the sun sets early. Though it may be late evening when you start out, it could be twilight or full dark by the time you head back home. If you’re walking — even in a well-lit area — having a flashlight with you is a good idea. It can help make you more visible to cars.

2) Stick to places you know and are known — Halloween can bring out the little greed monster in any kid as they think about how they can maximize their sugar haul. Instead of taking them to a bunch of different neighborhoods where you don’t know the layout, people, and where you yourself are not known, follow Cheer’s advice and stick to places where everybody knows your name.

3) If you’re giving out the goodies, be aware and be recording — Halloween pranks generally aren’t major property damaging events — eggs can be washed off and toilet paper gotten out of trees and bushes easily enough. Still, try to be certain that your windows are locked and curtains are drawn or that any window decorations you have obscure the view into your house. It’s rare but, just like some burglars check the obituaries, some also like to investigate their next heist under the guise of trick or treat escort detail. You can further protect yourself by making use of spy cams placed strategically.

4) Make certain the door is well-lit — Whether you’re on the inside or the outside, make certain that the door is well-lit and that it is easy to see both whoever is approaching and whoever is answering the door.

5) Wrapped candy can wait but apples should get first takers — If you’re worried about someone putting something in a caramel apple, wash it off and slice the apple up. All of the sugary stuff in mass-produced wrappers will keep for a few days but if your child got some “real food” goodies that you trust, those should be eaten sooner rather than later.

6) Put the goodies up that night — Many kids wake up on All Saints’ sick because they carried their Halloween bags back to their room and proceeded to gorge themselves during the night. Keep this from happening by taking the goodies and putting them up and not in a place your child can get to or can guess at.

Halloween is a fun time for people of all ages. With a bit of awareness and caution, there’s no reason to refuse to join in the festivities or sit around worrying about everything that could go wrong.

Motion Picture Monday: Law & Order SVU

Motion Picture Monday: Law & Order SVU

These days, investigative and police procedurals are wildly popular in television. Shows such as CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Homicide, Person of Interest, and others have gathered large and devoted audiences and have managed to make it through more seasons than the average show can expect to run. But, the grandfather of all these shows is Law & Order. Created by Dick Wolf in 1988, Law & Order was one of the longest-running television shows in the United States, tying for that place with Gunsmoke. Law & Order created several spin-off series including the still-running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Each week, this show manages to pack a punch. Though it follows the same format week-to-week, the story is always different. The cast has changed many times over the years with the changes in actors always being written into the show in believable ways. The detectives and prosecutors work to solve crimes. Though they generally are the good guys, the show doesn’t flinch from showing some of negative aspects of the criminal justice system. The police and prosecutors are portrayed as very human with all of the flaws and virtues that come with the human condition.

Law & Order is one of my favorite shows and has been ever since I first saw it when I was a teenager. Though it deals with difficult situations, sometimes despicable acts and characters, the drama and the storytelling make every episode worth watching.

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

It’s been another busy week in the world of tech and gadgets. This week saw many patent wars continuing with Apple, Microsoft, and Google as well as continued legal battles with Aereo, China, data privacy groups and the police, Kim Dotcom of Megaupload fame. Beyond that, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all had some fairly major announcements this past week regarding gadgets and gizmos to look forward to for the holiday season. There was also plenty of coverage about yesterday’s partial solar eclipse.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter, we’ll recap the highlights for you below!

That’s all for this week, everyone. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you again next week!

Throwback Thursday: My Girl

Throwback Thursday: My Girl

One of the most memorable movies of the early 1990s is My Girl. Anyone who’s seen it remembers it. This is one of those rare movies that very few people can watch without bursting into tears near the end. It’s a coming of age story about a girl and her best friend dealing with the way that life can change very quickly. Set in a small Pennsylvania town in the early 1970s, the movie covers topics from dealing with the loss of a parent, a second marriage, being teased, entering adolescence, having that first real crush, as well as losing your best friend to tragedy.

My Girl was one of the first movies that I went to see on my own with just a few friends. It was also one of the first films I can remember people going back to see multiple times. If you were too young to have seen it, it’s available on Netflix, iTunes, and on Amazon Instant Video. It’s well worth watching — whether for the first or the hundredth time. My Girl is one of those rare films that stands the test of time and tells a story that is relevant to anyone from any generation.

What is a movie that has stuck with you through many years? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday Recipes: Nuts for Nuts!

Wednesday Recipes: Nuts for Nuts!

Today is Nut Day and Anaphylaxis Awareness Day. For those of you who don’t have nut allergies, we have a couple of great nut recipes for you to try out. Nuts have been part and parcel of the human diet since before the dawn of civilization. Almost everyone has a favorite whether it is peanuts, almonds, walnuts, macadamias, chestnuts, hazelnuts, hickory, pistachios, cashews, or pecans. Nuts can be made into a spread, like peanut butter, or into a snack like trail mix. So, today, if you can, feel free to go nuts about nuts!

Individual Cherry-Blueberry Trifles

1 1/4 cups halved pitted fresh cherries or thawed and drained frozen cherries
1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries or thawed and drained frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
16 ladyfingers
1 cup nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Toss cherries, blueberries and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Layer two ladyfingers, about 1/4 cup fruit mixture, and 2 tablespoons yogurt in four 10- to 12-ounce tumblers or similar-size glasses. Repeat with another layer of ladyfingers, fruit, and yogurt. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon almonds just before serving.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Top with almonds just before serving.

Orange-Scented Green Beans with Toasted Almonds

1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan, add 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Put green beans in the basket and steam until tender, about 6 minutes. Toss the green beans in a large bowl with oil, orange zest, salt, pepper and almonds.

To toast sliced almonds, place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

6 Great Halloween Haunted House Ideas

6 Great Halloween Haunted House Ideas

Halloween is just a little over a week away which means it’s almost too late time to get the spooky decorations out and get ready for all the trick-or-treaters who will be coming around. If you’re planning to go a little further and make up a mini-haunted house, we have a few tips on things you can use to give the place a vibe that is both eerie and entertaining!

However, if you are making a new structure and it’s intended to be a temporary structure, you will still need to make certain that it is fairly sturdy. For the floor, use strong wood instead of relying on cheaper ply-wood — you can always re-purpose it later on. You can try weighting the structure down by making a gap between the bottom and the flooring and using sandbags as anchors in lieu of digging or making a more traditional foundation. The walls can be plywood with supporting studs placed to keep them from being pushed out of position. And, while a flat roof is fine, a steepled roof with rafters showing can give you much more room to run wires and to give the impression of spookiness.

If you’re not certain how to build such a structure, talk to someone who is. The chills should come from deliberate effects, not people being scared because your haunted house wiggles due to poor design and support.

1) LED strands are your friend – Unless you live in a place that has a lot of insects at Halloween, LED lights and strings can be the best way to light a haunted house and to guide people through it and call their attention to the particular sections you want them to see. You can also use a small LED light hung from a reel that is set to crank up and down on a timer to make it look as if a radioactive spider is coming down from the ceiling.

2) Small speakers are better than large – The worst haunted houses are those where the decibel level on every effect leaves the visitors temporarily deaf. Use smaller speakers placed strategically to transmit the sounds you want people to hear as they pass through your haunted house. Smaller speakers are also easier to rig and don’t require as much support in a structure as larger ones do.

3) Flatscreen TVs for windows – If you can bear it (and if the walls will support one), part with your flatscreen TVs for a bit and use them in the haunted house. You can mask them fairly well and make it seem like they are windows looking out onto an eerie landscape.

4) Use blacklights and strobes sparingly – Blacklights are great when used carefully and with paint that is designed to reflect them. Strobes can also be a great way to spice things up. However, don’t overuse either of these. Blacklights can cause eyestrain and dizziness since they cause the human eye to focus in ways that don’t occur much in nature and strobes can induce headaches in many people and seizures in a few. If you do use strobes, make certain that anyone going into the haunted house knows in advance.

5) Have a little something for those who make it through – Growing up, one of my neighbors would do a small haunted house in their front yard. At the end of it, the doorway out opened into their garage and they always had rigged-up bags filled with “brains” (cold spaghetti), “eyeballs” (peeled grapes), and “guts” (sausage skins filled with Jello or liquids). The kids could put their hands in these bags without being able to see in them and indulge that “ick” factor. Afterwards, there was the expected candy, candied apples, and sometimes more games like “Haunted Fishing Pond” or “Shoot a dart at the moving jack-o-lantern.”

Needless to say, these were the most popular people in the neighborhood at Halloween.

6) Be ready to take younger kids through and show them how everything works for real – If a child gets upset or scared inside the haunted house, have someone who can go in and get them and then walk them through the house with a flashlight and show them exactly how everything works. Getting to see behind the curtain does a lot to calm a kid down. Also, it’s educational and the kid will remember it for years to come.

How else do you think I know about this stuff?

Halloween is a great holiday for kids to get their spook on and for adults to have a little fun. With modern gadgets and careful planning, this Halloween can be one that is remembered for years to come without being one that is still being paid off for years to come!

Motion Picture Monday: A Ratings Guide

Motion Picture Monday: A Ratings Guide

Anyone who has been to the movies has, no doubt, gotten some familiarity with the MPAA ratings system. That system is very easy to understand and leaves few questions as to what age a movie is aimed towards. Though, in recent years, some of the ratings have gotten to be a bit more porous or tolerant in the kinds of language and suggestive content they’ll allow while keeping a lower-aged rating, for the most part, you can trust that if a movie is rated “G,” you can take your children to it.

However, when it comes to TV show ratings and video game ratings, that system quickly goes out the window and things can get very confusing very quickly. So, today, we’d like to do a quick rundown of the two major TV/gaming rating systems in use in the US in order to help parents decide which popular TV shows are appropriate for their children and which games they might add to their shopping list for this coming holiday season. The TV ratings guide is a voluntary adoption on the part of some stations, channels, and shows and is not regulated by force of law. The ESRB ratings system is also a voluntary system that has no real legal enforcement. Both can be a bit…creative in their interpretations which is what we’re hoping to help clear up.

TV Y, ESRB eC – These are television shows or games that are aimed at young children. Examples include cartoons like The Smurfs, Dora the Explorer, and games that are generally educational in content or are based on children’s television shows and films. There will be no foul language, suggestive themes, or depictions of violence beyond the slapstick kind.

TV Y7, ESRB 10+ – These are television shows or games that may depict fantasy violence or themes that are appropriate for older children or video games that contain the same. For games, the ability to read quickly may be required. Examples include cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and games such as The Legend of Zelda.

TV G, ESRB E – These are games and television shows that are aimed at a general audience. They may contain some items that are not appropriate or comprehensible to younger children and may require (for games) the ability to read and deal with menuing systems as part of gameplay. Examples include Star Trek and Doctor Who in TV and games like Sid Meyer’s Civilization series and some earlier Final Fantasy games.

TV PG, TV 14, ESRB T – These are television shows or games that are inappropriate for younger children for various reasons. The PG rating indicates that parents may want to preview the show before letting children younger than 14 watch it and may need to watch it with them to help them understand some of the things depicted therein. Most of the prime-time television shows fall into this category. Examples include shows like CSI, Person of Interest, Criminal Minds, The Big Bang Theory, and Gracepoint and games such as World of Warcraft, Diablo III, and most of the Final Fantasy franchise.

TV MA, ESRB M – These shows and games contain content that is aimed at adults. They may have foul language, dark themes, sexual themes, realistic depictions of violence, and pose serious moral dilemmas as part of their storylines. Examples include The Walking Dead, Law and Order: SVU, Desperate Housewives, and other late-night programming (post 8 pm timeslot). Games that fall under this rating are Dragon Age and GTA.

ESRB AO – This is a game that is aimed at adults only and should not be given to children. The content is completely adult in nature and may contain explicit sex, explicit violence, extreme language, and other situations that are not appropriate for children.

Ratings, even when voluntary, can help you decide if a show or game is appropriate for your children. However, do bear in mind that ratings are not hard-and-fast things. Often, the ESRB rated games will include a list of why a game has a certain rating for anything T or higher. TV shows may frequently contain a disclaimer before the beginning of the show explaining the nature of the content within. And, some older teens may find games rated T or higher or shows rated 14 and higher not to their liking while some 12 year olds may be perfectly fine playing T games or watching a show like The Walking Dead. In the end, it is up to parents to decide what content they deem appropriate for their children and at what age their child may view or play content with a certain rating. The rating systems are only a guideline — they cannot tell you, in and of themselves, whether the show or game is something your children will like or something you will find appropriate for them.

Wednesday Recipes: Lamprey Edition

Today is Hagfish Day — a fish that only a fisherman can love. These slimy, eel-like fish are not generally eaten. Their skin is used to make various leather products such as wallets, belts, and other accessories that need to be durable. However, though the repugnant and veniform hagfish is not central to cuisine, their cousins, the lampreys, are edible and the centerpieces of many Old World recipes — including one dish that is served for the British Monarch on special occasions. So, since we can’t share any hagfish recipes with you today, we’ll do the next best thing and share some lamprey recipes for those of you looking for something that is definitely different to add to your recipe repertoire!

Lamprey Pie

Pastry dough for nine-inch pie crust
1 pound eel, catfish, or other fish filets
1/2 C brown bread crumbs (1/3 C if blood is used)
1/4 C wine vinegar (2T if blood is used)
1/4 C fresh eel or fish blood (optional)
1/4 C dry wine
1/4 tsp. each cinnamon and black pepper
Salt to taste

Syrup and Sops:
1 C sweet wine
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
3 slices firm white bread
1 T brown sugar, or to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a pie pan with the crust, and put it in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes to harden it. Remove it, and reduce oven temperature to 350°.

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs, vinegar, dry wine, cinnamon, salt and pepper (and blood if it is used). Place the eels or fish in the pie crust, and pour the sauce over them. Cover the pie with heavy aluminum foil, with a few holes poked in it. Put the pie in the oven, and bake it for half an hour to forty-five minutes, or until the eels or fish are done. Remove it, and allow it to cool. Remove the foil from the pie, and carefully remove the eels or fish from the pie, and arrange them on a serving dish.

In a saucepan, over low heat, combine half of the sweet wine with the ginger and brown sugar. Carefully pour the sauce remaining in the bottom of the pie crust into the saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil, and simmer, stirring frequently, for about five minutes. Line the bottom of the pie crust with the slices of white bread, and pour over them the remaining sweet wine. Then pour the hot syrup over the bread and wine, and serve the sops in the crust, and the eels or fish separately.

Recipe from Gode Cookery.

Beer-Battered Fried Lamprey

2 lbs lampreys, cleaned

Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (more to taste)
12 ounces beer (warm or cold, flat or fizzy ~ don’t waste good beer here)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Oil, for frying (any vegetable oil will do ~ you’ll want about 1/2-inch in your pan)

To clean lampreys: after catching and killing the fish, pop it into boiling water for a few seconds to help remove the slimy coating. Though a knife will often be all that’s needed to scrape it away, any remaining vestiges can be rubbed off the skin with a rough cloth. Cut off the tail (usually about 6 inches long), then tie a string around the head and suspend the fish over the sink to drain the blood. Open bronchial holes on the side of the fish and allow the blood to empty Then, remove the intestines and notocordium (the long, dark bitter-tasting organ running down the abdomen). Rinse the fish again and then decapitate it by slicing around the body and pulling off the head. If you don’t want crunchy lamprey, make sure the thick, bony cartilage comes out with the head. Discard both.

To make the batter: Mix the dry ingredients together. Add beer slowly, stirring constantly, until you get the texture of pancake batter. Let sit on the counter at room temperature for at least 20 minutes to allow the gluten to break down.

Cut cleaned fish into 1″ sections and drop into the batter. Heat the oil in a large frying pan to 350°F. Drop the battered fish in the hot oil and cook until golden brown on all sides, about three minutes.